Archive for May, 2017

The Threat From Terrorism and Human Trafficking in Latin America

This originally appeared in Insidesources: “Hypothetical, if unproven, scenarios often dominate the storyline of possible collusion between organized crime and jihadists in Latin America. But the growth of illicit networks and successful human smuggling operations poses a known and immediate threat to U.S. national security.

Complicated networks of fringe supporters, associate funders and full-time operators help connect criminal and terrorist elements from hot spots around the globe. Hezbollah works with powerful Colombian and Brazilian drug syndicates to move tons of cocaine into Africa and Europe. Networks of loosely affiliated criminal organizations facilitate the paid covert transfer of terrorists over international borders.

The fluidity of these networks, however, poses a problem for counterterrorism and interdiction efforts. Navy Adm. Kurt Walter Tidd explained that “what’s true about (a network) today … isn’t necessarily true tomorrow.”

Understanding the complexities of the international connections linking organized crime with terrorist organizations can be confusing since they remain in constant flux, he said.

Terrorism expert Douglas Farah offers a more static picture of networks, breaking them down into three essential elements: fixers, super fixers and shadow facilitators. Local fixers are business elites that profit from connecting seedy organizations to otherwise difficult-to-penetrate local financial networks, while the super fixers do something similar on a regional or global scale. The shadow facilitators, Farah writes, specialize in moving weapons and commodities, in addition to having access to fraudulent documents and money-laundering services.

Networks rely on these outsourcing operations. And that outsourcing has provided lesser-known actors capabilities once generally reserved for nation-states. This makes a relatively inexpensive operation, like human smuggling, accessible to virtually anyone. The small-time Islamist thousands of miles away now becomes a significant threat.

The problem for U.S. security is that networks in Latin America specialize in human smuggling and have known connections to countries of concern in the Middle East.

According to the Arizona attorney general’s office, a disproportionate amount of wire transfers come from the Middle East or from individuals with Middle Eastern names to specific border cities in Mexico. The majority of wire transfers arrive in Tapachula ‒‒ a city on Mexico’s southern border and a major hub for human smuggling. The second-highest amount goes to the northern city of Nogales, just over the border from Arizona. Neither city appears to have a notable immigrant population, which might otherwise warrant such significant transactions.

In August 2014, four Turkish men who claimed to have ties to terrorist organizations were detained after crossing the border into Texas. The four flew directly from Istanbul to Mexico City, and a Turkish-speaking contact sheltered them in a safe house for a month before their cross-border transit into Texas from Reynosa, Mexico. Each man paid a mere $8,000. Putting that cost in perspective: Hezbollah operatives have laundered as much as $200 million a month in cocaine revenue for some Latin American drug cartels.

Judicial Watch sources reported in 2015 that cartel associates had willingly and knowingly smuggled ISIS members through the weakly manned corridor between Acala and Fort Hancock, Texas. ISIS member Mahmood Omar Khabir ‒‒ a former al-Qaeda instructor expelled from Kuwait for extremism ‒‒ claims to have traveled back and forth across the border from his hideout in northern Mexico near El Paso to scout targets with the help of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Sharafat Ali Khan pleaded guilty in April 2017 to smuggling illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh through an elaborate underground railroad that originated in Brazil. One of those smuggled Afghans was later tied to a plot to attack the United States and pleaded guilty in April 2017.

The confusing overlaps between criminal and terrorist activities within the networks create uncertainties of jurisdiction for the military and law enforcement. Trying to stop the range of illicit activities of one criminal organization should change to emphasizing a specific type of operation. The U.S. government could concentrate on human smuggling in Latin America and counter the activity rather than the actor.

To supplement this strategy, the U.S. government could adopt a version of Drug Enforcement Administration Chief of Operations David Braun’s idea of helping Latin American countries craft powerful conspiracy laws. The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act proved successful in taking apart the once impenetrable American mob because it allowed prosecutors to try organized crime leaders and associates for ordering or facilitating a criminal act, regardless of whether they personally committed the offense.

The U.S. adversaries who have infiltrated Latin America have proven capable and willing to move people into position to attack American communities. For that reason, human smuggling should be a priority.”

Terrorism in Latin America (Part One): The Infiltration of Islamic Extremists

“The threat from Islamic extremists in Latin America remains an overlooked aspect of U.S. national security strategy. And the threat is worsening – not “waning” as the Obama administration claimed about Iran in 2013. The Trump administration should shift U.S. priorities in Latin America to strategies that preemptively disrupt the financial networks of Islamists, aid allied governments with legal and law enforcement support, and increase intelligence-gathering capabilities in the region.

The Process Began Decades Ago. Islamic extremists have used Latin America as a base of political and financial support since the immediate years preceding the formation of Israel in May 1948:

  • A handful of Arab officials and Arab-Palestinian sympathizers began fundraising efforts and circulated anti-Israeli literature throughout parts of Latin America not long after the first Arab-Israeli war (1948- 1949).
  • As networks developed and diplomacy turned to violent activism, more militant groups moved in; for instance, in the 1960s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) used established networks to build their own base of support among guerrilla factions, local anti-Semitic organizations and Arab civic groups in Argentina.
  • Furthermore, the PLO and others also collaborated with rebels in Nicaragua in the 1970s and with the Cuban government in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict.

Aided by these local networks, Iran began settling its agents in Latin America in the early 1980s and operatives from Hezbollah ‒‒ a militant Islamist group based in Lebanon and proxy force of Iran ‒‒ soon followed.

Latin America Is Important for Relationships and Money. Today, international Islamists, especially Iran and Hezbollah, employ much more sophisticated fundraising and recruitment operations that reach far and wide. Former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States Roger Noriega told Congress in March 2012 that Iran now has 80 Hezbollah Islamist operatives in at least 12 Latin American nations –‒ including Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile. In fact, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami in February 2017 for his collaboration with drug organizations and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.

Separately, author and senior Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak describes the lawless triborder region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, 800 miles north of Buenos Aires, as the most important base for Hezbollah outside of its headquarters in Lebanon. The $6 billion-a-year illicit economy in this Hezbollah stronghold has allowed a variety of terrorist organizations to earn an estimated $10 million to $20 million a year from arms trafficking, counterfeiting and drug distribution, among other illegal activities…”

See more here.

America Should Be Ready, Venezuela Might Become the Next Syria

This originally appeared in Townhall. “Said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Nazi buildup in Europe: “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.” The unwillingness to act when such action would have been simple and effective constitutes the “endless repetition of history,” he concluded.

Today, observers would rightly associate this statement with Syria. But Churchill did not make this proclamation so future generations would seek out examples that affirmed his logic. He made the statement so future generations would break that dreadful repetition. This is not just a quote of self reflection – it’s a call to action.

Syria is thoroughly out of hand and late remedies are now being applied. The cycle of historical inaction will not be broken in Syria. Pundits, politicians and military officials would be wise to stop reliving what could have been done there, and start looking at what can be done elsewhere. Therefore, the American government must determine the likelihood of Venezuela becoming another Syria – this time in the western hemisphere. The United States and its Latin American allies must then collectively decide whether to do anything about it.

In their quest for more and more power, Chavez and then Maduro made reliable access to basic necessities a virtual impossibility. Maduro then had the Supreme Court dissolve the Congress after the Venezuelan people stocked the legislature with opposition members through democratic elections. Although international outcry forced him to partially rescind that order, Maduro continues to issue tyrannical edicts that will have the same effect at a slower pace. Now the Maduro regime has armed loyalists to seek out and kill dissenters. Over twenty people have died in riots over the last few weeks.

This administration would rather starve its people than relinquish power. Maduro would rather dismantle government and assassinate opponents than keep the country viable. History tells us that such despotism and subsequent international inaction can lead to Assad-like levels of oppression.

Making matters worse, this regime has allowed international criminal networks and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, to thrive within the country’s borders. This permissive environment has thoroughly compromised the upper echelons of the Venezuelan government and allowed illicit behavior to permeate the economy and society.

Most important, the same actors in Russia and Iran that prevent Assad’s demise are the same players underwriting Venezuelan tyranny. Remember that Vice President Tareck El Aissami is Hezbollah’s go-to guy in the administration. Experts should not be fooled into thinking that geographic distance will dissuade Russia or Iran from intervening on Maduro’s behalf. Neither country will so easily cede such a strategic and lucrative relationship – one that each country has spent years cultivating.

President Trump must be prepared for the possibility of a Syria in the western hemisphere. The administration has already taken steps to sanction high-level Venezuelan officials for their work with cartels and known terrorist organizations. But they must also be prepared for preemptive action:

  • Anticipate and be prepared for the possibility that Russia, Iran and/or Hezbollah will help Maduro crush dissent, covertly or otherwise. Do not be caught off guard when they block U.N. resolutions, cripple Maduro’s adversaries through cyber attacks, or, in an extreme situation, deploy military assets.
  • Consider how and where to erect safe zones because a failing state may create a refugee crisis in a region already plagued by economic and social instability.
  • Work with Latin American allies to demand a democratic resolution. Don’t wait for collapse to be spurred into action.

This is not a call for military intervention. It is merely a reminder that the arc of history bends toward inaction – something we often come to regret.”